Ian Gray, NSRI Port Elizabeth station commander, said:
At 08h00, Saturday, 20th October, NSRI Port Elizabeth duty crew were activated following reports of surf-skiers in difficulty 1 nautical mile off-shore of Main Beach in the vicinity of the Bell Buoy.
The son of a surf-skier reported that he had received a phone call from his mom who told him that she was adrift at sea about 1 nautical mile off-shore of Main Beach. She was drifting in the water in her life jacket after losing a surf-ski that had been loaned to her by her friend who was apparently swimming to shore.
The son reported that his mom had been trying to call him for over an hour from a cellphone she found in the life-jacket left by her friend who was swimming to shore.
Because the son did not recognise the phone number, he had initally not answered the phone but eventually, after over an hour of him being called consistently from the same phone number, he answered the phone and it was his mom calling for urgent help and claiming to be in serious trouble at sea.
Our NSRI Port Elizabeth duty crew were at our Sea Rescue station at the time on routine training and immediately the sea rescue craft JTL Rescuer was launched.
During a search we found one female in the water in the company of a male surf-skier helping her by using his surf-ski as flotation. She had no surf-ski with her and she claimed to be swimming to shore.
She said she had loaned her own surf-ski to her fellow female surf-skier who had lost her surf-ski. She had loaned the surf-ski to her friend to use to try to recover the surf-ski that had drifted away in the wind.
The male surf-skier had come across the lady swimming towards shore and he had stopped to help her.
We took that lady onboard our sea rescue craft and started to treat her for hypothermia. The male surf-skier then paddled safely to shore.
A search began for the missing lady. Her friend, who we had just picked up, was surprised to hear that she was reported as adrift at sea in a life-jacket.
Calls to the cellphone went unanswered and the lady’s son had come down to our Sea Rescue base to be interviewed while we tried to determine where his mom was.
Following an extensive search we came across his mom – in the water in her life-jacket. She had been in the water for over 2 hours and she was severely hypothermic.
We rescued her and we immediately started treatment for severe hypothermia. We took both of them to our sea rescue base.
At that stage both surf-ski’s were missing.
EC Government Health EMS were activated and both ladies were transported to hospital by ambulance. One lady was released later and the lady who had been severely hypothermic was kept in hospital overnight.
Both surf-skis washed up later in the afternoon 10 nautical miles South and both surf-skis have been recovered.
We believe that the 2 ladies were taking part in a time trial qualifying for a race.
From what we understand the two ladies were paddling along, 1 nautical mile off-shore of Main Beach, in the vicinity of the Bell Buoy when the one lady had fallen out of her surf-ski. Then a whale breached close to them and in the confusion her surf-ski drifted away from them and she was left in the water. Her friend, who was paddling with her, being a strong swimmer had loaned her surf-ski and opted to swim to shore.
A man on a surf-ski had come across the lady who was swimming to shore and he assisted her until Sea Rescue arrived.
The lady on the loaned surf-ski apparently couldn’t find her own surf-ski and then fell out of the loaned surf-ski too.
That loaned surf-ski then also drifted away from her and she floated in her life-jacket for 2 hours until sea rescue found her and she was rescued.
It is just by chance that she found her friend’s cellphone in the life-jacket that was on the loaned surf-ski and it is just by chance that eventually, after an hour of frantic attempts to reach her son using that phone, that her son answered the phone.
Her friend who was swimming to shore had no idea that she was in any trouble.
After being found (in the company of the male surf-skier) and rescued onto the sea rescue craft she wanted to be taken to shore but we knew that we were in a race against time to find her friend who was afloat at sea in a life-jacket.
The lady who had been adrift at sea in a life-jacket for 2 hours in 16.8 degree water was severely hypothermic and she required aggressive treatment. She has been kept in hospital for further treatment.
NSRI continue to urge paddlers and boaters to have the NSRI emergency number programmed into their fully charged phone, always wear a life-jacket and have a referee whistle, red distress flares, and have the free NSRI RSA SafeTrx application on your phone and use SafeTrx every time you launch.
Surf-skiers and fishermen on sea-kayaks, canoes and paddle boards should always try to go in groups of 3 persons and never leave your floating resource (your surf-ski, canoe, sea-kayak, boat, kite-board etc) after activating an emergency using SafeTrx or calling NSRI.
TO REPORT A SEA RESCUE EMERGENCY DIAL 112 FROM A CELLPHONE